A watchmaking torn between 1000th of a second and the suspension of time

June 2011

Two very particular watches attracted a lot of attention at the grand watch fair of BaselWorld: the Mikrotimer Flying 1000, a mechanical chronograph measuring 1000th of a second presented by TAG Heuer; and Le Temps Suspendu, a watch from Hermès, which allows its wearer to temporarily forget the time. Everything was different between these two timekeepers. And yet?

Symbolically, these two watches reflect the two major and contradictory trends in contemporary timekeeping. On the one hand, with a 1000th of a second measurement, is expressed the desire to push the art of mechanical timekeeping to its very limits, to attain what was thought, up to now, to be unattainable. How, in fact, might we even imagine that an oscillator could reach a frequency of 50Hz, thus beating at the furious rate of 3,600,000 vibrations per hour, and therefore theoretically capable of measuring such a division of time—a thousandth of a second—a length of time that is not even perceptible by the human mind? Then there is the opposite endeavour, one that does not seek to divide time into ‘nano fractions’, but rather to suspend it, to forget it, to let the wearer detach from it, while still being able to return to it at will.

A watchmaking torn between 1000th of a second and the suspension of time

We would not be wrong to see, in these two opposite directions of research, the perfect metaphor of our societies, wrenched as they are between ever accelerating and taking the time to slow down. Should we run even faster, adapting to the instantaneous time that our increasingly sophisticated machines impose upon us (this has already occurred in the global financial and stock exchange transactions that are completed in milliseconds)? Or, has it also become imperative—and even urgent—to slow down, to stop, or at least to ‘suspend’ this frantic race of time? In a way, these two opposite types of watches represent the debates of society, of politics, of our ecosystem that exceed, by far, the domain of watchmaking alone. This demonstrates once again that the perception of time held by these different civilizations is a central element in their basic identity. In the Mikrotimer Flying 1000, time is an arrow that accelerates, travelling faster and faster towards an invisible goal or running linearly towards a target that retreats as we approach it. In Le Temps Suspendu, time is a loop, a spiral that rises, always passing by the same points—points from which we have the leisure to move away from in order to better come back to them. Consequently, there is an intimate time, an interior time, a time that we can immobilize; and there is an exterior time whose implacable rule is indiscriminately imposed on everyone. This timekeeper offers a time of reflection (which literally signifies returning the thought onto itself) against a time of action, which itself, on the contrary, is a use of energy.

Do we exaggerate then by using metaphors, which make the choice of a watch also a choice of society? Not really. Let’s imagine quite simply a situation where two people meet. One has chosen to wear a Mikrotimer Flying 1000 on his wrist, while the other has selected Le Temps Suspendu as his timepiece. It is a safe bet to assume that not only do their respective perceptions of time differ, but also their opinions on the notion of ‘progress’. So, make your choice. The future depends on it.

P.S. To learn more about these two watches, please see our BaselWorld report in this issue.

Source: Europa Star June - July 2011 Magazine Issue